Closed The Outcast
When his hand loosened around her arm, she let out a sigh as if relieved. His words, however, were far from comforting. Confusing? Perhaps. Her head tilted but she didn’t answer his comments just yet. She watched him move to sit on a step and she turned to the fireplace instead, kneeling long enough to put more wood on the embers, then poking at those until the wood ignited and the room brightened just a little. She sat down on the makeshift bed, wrapping her arms around her knees to hug them to her chest.

“The dream meant nothing… It was only that… a dream. I’ve had a hell of a go at life this passed fortnight with being dismissed over something I did not do and I had everyone at that manor calling me all sorts of names. Her face may only have appeared because of the news you gave to me about her. That is all…”

She paused for a time and then continued, “It’s as I said earlier; you’ve made it abundantly clear that you do not want me here. Why WOULD you care?” With that, she stood and moved to her traveling gown, checking to see if it was dry. Once it was determined to be so, she grabbed for that and her undergarments, not daring to look at him. “I’ll get dressed now and be out of your hair, sir.”
He barely heard her. His mind was a thousand leagues away, yet entirely inside his own head. But when she rose and went to her dress, his ears noted the sound and his eyes opened. She averred that she would go, and for a moment, he believed that it would be safer for her to do so. Yet the flicking of the sleet against the windowpane played an underscore to his reverie, and he knew she would freeze to death if she tried to make it back to the village at this time of night, in the dark and with the road still half hidden beneath mounds of snow. He’d not have a second death on his head. He rose as well, and gripped her wrist again.

”You’ll freeze if you go out in this. You must stay.” It was hardly an invitation. Nor was it really a command. His tone was…resigned. It was a fact, not to be controverted. She must stay, until the morning, when he could saddle one of the plough horses and take her to the village himself.

”I’ll bide with thee,” he said, again in a tone that bespoke no great compassion or care. ”Perhaps she’ll leave thee be, if she has me to bedevil.”

Tom sank back down onto the settle, stretching out to lay on its hard wooden surface. There was the more comfortable looking upholstered chair that he might have chosen. But he’d sooner pass the night in the yard, exposed to the frozen rain without, than to dare fall asleep in Her chair.

(Here's sort of what the main room of the farm house looks like - gives an idea of the settle bench, the table and the chair)
[Image: BLDxMd.jpg]
He was such a confusing man… First, he wanted her gone, then he made her stay, and it had been going back and forth all evening. Added to that, but he seemed to make free with touching her; grabbing her arm or wrist when she would do as he desired. When he took her wrist again, she turned to gaze at him in frustration. He was telling her to stay after indicating she shouldn’t, and now he was lounging.

And then his remark about maybe she would leave him be… she who? Or was he referring to her, Rayne, when he said it? The girl pressed her lips together and sighed through her nose. No, he was referring to Nell. The man thought he was haunted and she was victim to the ghost of his wife he’d said was dead.

Rayne almost felt pity but knew that even indicating such would be folly with the way he seemed to act and believe. “Thank you…” Her words were almost flat albeit sincere as far as him letting her sleep there, but in her mind she was wondering if he was thinking she thanked him for his keeping her company.

She moved to lie back down on her side, gazing quietly at the fire for a long and silent moment. The bad dream she’d had bothered her and she was worn out. She rolled eventually because she was unable to fall back asleep. She gazed at him briefly, but then looked at nothing in particular as she lay awake.
Sleep came, eventually, as it always did, but too little and far too late. It was a fitful, restless slumber, and when the dark outside shifted to the first lighter greys of a frozen, watery dawn, Tom awoke, almost grateful to no longer make the pretense of sleeping. As soon as his eyes opened, he looked to his unwanted visitor. She appeared to sleep, and he let her be, rising somewhat quietly, moving to stir up the embers and lay on more turf to heat the chilled room.

Ham and eggs and cheese were brought from the kitchen. Water was heated for tea, which was now steeping in the old porcelain pot, on the table. A frying pan was set atop the turfs and the ham was sizzling, sending out a pleasing aroma. Tom knelt by the fire, on one knee, the other bent upwards and upon which he rested his hands, and then his chin, staring into the small, dancing flames. He’d taken time to pull on a clean pair of trousers, but still wore no shirt over the tops of his long johns, the braces meant to hold his pants up dangling down around his legs.

He reached to flip the piece of ham in the pan and thought he heard a sound coming from the girl. His dark eyes flicked over to look at her, as he wondered once again, what he should best do with her.
Her dreams were blessedly silent as she finally slept. Ah, but she was so tired after the night prior that she didn’t really realize that she’d slept as much as she had. It was the smell of ham that tickled her nose and tantalized her, reaching out to her as if to envelope in a warm hug with which to wake her, and her eyes opened. He was cooking food…

She watched him for a time from beneath lowered lashes but fell asleep again in the process even if for only a few moments. Eventually, she sat up and was rubbing at her tired eyes with the heels of her hands until she was able to focus.

The food smelled wonderful and her stomach announced her hunger since she had not eaten the day before. Rayne sighed and moved to her feet, automatically reaching for blankets to tidy up because of habit. She had one folded neatly and set in the chair that had been Nell’s (unbeknownst to her) and was folding the next linen when she said quietly, “I will get dressed and go soon… I have to… figure things out.” She held no delusions about staying it seemed.
By the time she rose, he had placed the bacon on a dish on the table and he proceeded to kneel in front of the turf fire once more, to crack open at least a half dozen eggs into the hot pan. With the shortening days, what hens there were had pretty much stopped laying. These were some of the last he’d found, and he thought to use them before they were no longer good – although eggs would keep for a month or more. Once they were fried, he rose and brought the pan to the table, as Rayne finished folding the blankets. She spoke, of leaving, and he replied, ”Might as well eat first.” It was hardly a gracious offer, but he was already sliding eggs onto a plate, and then the balance onto a second plate. To this he added ample ham and he began to slice some cheese from the white wheel.

The sleet continued to flick against the panes and he glanced again at the window. ”This weather’ll not clear til tomorrow.” He added nothing to that statement of supposed fact, neither invitation to stay at the farmhouse, nor further imprecation that she should leave.  He nodded at one of the two benches. ”Sit and bide.” His glance came round to her face.

”You said you’ve got no place to go. What d’you plan on doing, then?”
Once she was through with folding bed linens and stacking them neatly, she turned her gaze toward him to acknowledge that she was actually not ignoring him. How could she anyways? She started to feel a sharp sense of frustration with the still unnamed fellow and her face reflected that. The girl flattened her lips momentarily as he, at least in her mind, ordered her to sit and eat and was asking questions.

With a sigh, she sat where he indicated, before saying, “I don’t know. I doubt I am hirable now in what I know because I have no good references… I suppose I could become a tavern wench if I must… It’s not my idea of where I wanted my life to be but its honest work.”

She proceeded to eat… daintily at first, but hunger was a force to be reckoned with and she found herself clearing half the plate in moments. In all honesty, it was a far cry from the porridge she ate at the manse and it was rich fare, quite tasty…

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